After five Olympic games, Butch Johnson’s peers hail him as a Superman in the world of archery.
But Johnson is more of a Clark Kent. Tall and broad-shouldered, this resident of Woodstock, Conn. isn’t much of a talker. Nor is he much of a self-promoter.
Over the course of his career, Johnson accumulated 46 national championships. This year, he's shooting to qualify for the Olympics in London, but he made his first Olympic trip in 1992. Since then, he's returned to the games four more times.
In 2000, Johnson won a bronze medal in Sydney. His archery team won gold at the 1996 games in Atlanta. Both medals are stowed away in a cabinet under his kitchen sink.
“Someday I was going to make some sort of plaque to hang it and stuff, but I just never got around to it.” Johnson said.
Johnson’s former coach, Frank Thomas, said with a laugh, “That doesn’t really amaze me. I would have guessed his sock drawer.”
Thomas was Johnson's coach in the 2004 Olympics and has been friends with Johnson for more than a decade. Thomas is a legend in his own right; as head coach at Texas A&M, his team won the national championship 13 out of the past 15 years.
He was there in 1996 when Johnson won gold. Thomas says the U.S. team was in a tough match against top-ranked South Korea. The Americans were losing, and, to make things worse, the Korean star Kim Bo-Ram had just shot three perfect arrows. Gold was slipping away. The Americans needed a savior, and it was Johnson's turn to shoot. Clark Kent was about to become Superman.
Johnson said he was calm on the outside, but inside, he was petrified. Anything less than perfection meant America getting the gold would be nearly impossible.
"Oh, God, I got to shoot really good here," Johnson remembers thinking.
Frank Thomas said he’ll never forget what happened next.
“Butch stepped up, and he nailed three 10s. I mean, three dead-center 10s.” Thomas said. Three perfect shots. “It was the most amazing three arrows I’d ever seen in my life.”
The Korean star never recovered — Johnson thinks maybe his perfect arrows psyched him out.
"Yeah, I really think that did make all the difference in the world," Johnson said. "I think next end, he just got up and kind of crumbled, which is great."
Now, 16 years later, Johnson is working his way through yet another Olympic qualification. After the first round, he is seeded third. Round two of qualification begins Monday, April 23. If Johnson stays in the top three, he will take the last spot on the Olympic team. If he earns the trip, he'll be only the seventh American in history to make six Olympic games.
Thomas hopes that would earn Johnson a little more recognition.
"I would hope that if he makes his sixth Olympics that he would be allowed to carry the flag in for our country," Thomas said. "You know, to put that much effort in for his whole life, to represent the United States six times, I would think it would be a sin not to let him carry the flag."
But Johnson said he won't think that far ahead. In archery, he cautions nothing is a sure bet, especially if it's windy.
"You could just have some bad luck," Johnson said. "Gust of wind hits me just as I'm letting go of the string, I'm going to miss and nothing I can do about it."
Johnson won't know whether he has made the team until June. But no matter how he does in qualification, he said this will probably be his last go at the Olympics.